Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT: Special Needs Require Special Treatment – ACP Leaders

Debbie Singh

NADI, Fiji, Jul 19 2002 (IPS) - Leaders of the African, Carribean and Pacific (ACP) states called at the end of their summit here Friday for phased trade liberalisation, saying their special needs require special treatment from the European Union.

These elements ranked high on the Nadi Declaration issued here by leaders of the 78-member ACP, who began meeting Wednesday for the Third Summit of African, Carribbean and Pacific states.

Less than 20 heads of state attended the meeting, which aimed to consolidate a position for ACP countries ahead of five years of trade negotiations with the EU, starting September, over its proposed ‘Economic Partnership Agreements’ (EPAs).

The EPAs would be free trade areas replacing the preferential trading agreements that the EU now offers to its ACP partners and would provide for the eventual lifting of all trade barriers.

At present, ACP countries export quotas of certain products to the EU without paying tariffs and can place tariffs on imports from EU.

ACP leaders focused on the need for the group to close ranks to lobby for its interests, with Fiji’s Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase calling free trade “a steep and slippery slope for poorer states”.

The Tongan prime minister, Prince Ulukalakala Lavaka, explained, “The ACP countries are not intending to negotiate mere trade agreements – the EPAs must be development agreements.”

In an interview, ACP spokesman Hegel Goutier said that trade negotiations between ACP and EU are tools for poverty eradication – and that in this context, “the EPAs are about economic partnerships and not trade agreements”.

“Our concern is that if our markets open up, the consequences to local producers will be drastic,” said Ponipate Ravula, spokesperson of the Fiji-based Coalition on Human Rights, which staged a peaceful protest on the first day of the summit.

The ACP leaders said that trade liberalisation affecting many ACP countries needs to be tempered to fit their economic contexts – which range from poverty, poor exports, landlocked locations and small economies with little leeway to benefit from global trade and vulnerability to being edged out by big countries.

This, they added, means trade liberalisation in a progressive manner, accompanied by adequate measures to address supply-side constraints, improve competitiveness and strengthen capacity to trade.

The ACP group represents some 650 million people and counts as members 40 of the world’s poorest countries.

ACP leaders called for the strengthening of “special and differential treatment” in ACP’s trade relationship with the EU, to reflect its recognition of the particular situations of least developed, landlocked, small island and vulnerable states.

But in an interview with IPS, Dr Cahsai Berhane, ACP special assistant to the secretary general , says the EU is using the EPAs and pressure from globalisation to dodge their responsibilities to the poorer countries.

“The Europeans want to rid themselves of their historical debt (through the imposition of the EPAs). They feel they have paid their debt and are using the WTO as a pretext to get rid of their responsibility,” he added. “They now want to wash their hands like Pontius Pilate.”

But EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy says that the EU believes the practice of North-South trade is no longer sustainable. He pushed the idea of South-South trade via intra-ACP cooperation, using examples from Asia and Latin America to support his view.

Throughout the summit, Lamy insisted that EPAs are not classical trade agreements but agreements focused on development. He maintained that the EU would not step back from the EPAs and would continue to push for regional integration and trade liberalisation.

In the September negotiations with ACP in Brussels, the EU would conduct “explanatory talks” with countries “who are ready”, Lamy says.

Glenys Kinnock, co-president of the EU-ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly, says the EU needs to account for the constraints, adjustment costs and additional needs that ACP countries would face as a result of the EPAs.

The EU has turned down a demand for more aid beyond the 20 billion dollars announced during a U.N. summit in March to help compensate for losses from removal of trade barriers.

Kinnock suggested the EU consider doing what it did for East European countries, which are receiving three billion euros to upgrade food production standards before they join the union.

“Significant additional resources must also be made available to help ACP states meet EU requirements such as sanitary standards to enable ACP countries to take proper advantage of access to European markets,’ she said.

Under current preferential trade terms, ACP countries get compensation in export income due to price fluctuations in products such as sugar, beef and bananas.

The Nadi Declaration also urged the EU to develop an improved and simplified system of rules of origin for trade, and to ensure that the rules contribute to regional integration, to the preservation of preference margins and improvement of market access by ACP countries.

In meeting the challenges of facing pressure to open up trade and remove trade privileges — the ACP leaders said solidarity is essential, a theme that was underscored at the summit.

“Intra-ACP cooperation is the binding force underpinning ACP unity and solidarityà.it is the basis of ACP identity and contributes to the affirmation of the group in the international arena,” states the Nadi Declaration.

The leaders also looked to deepen economic ties with the ACP group, calling for the establishment of an ACP Free Trade Area and for the ACP Council of Ministers to ensure appropriate coordination of the group’s position within the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

For ACP leaders, solidarity goes beyond negotiations with outside partners and also encompasses cultural links to build more cohesion within the group– which is why the declaration endorses intra-ACP cultural projects.

Said Berhane: “The first thing ACP members need to do is to get to know each other through culture and commonality.”

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